FRANKFURT — A decade ago, Fiorenzo Tagliabue was the chief executive of SEC Relazioni Pubbliche e Istituzionali, a specialist in corporate and public affairs that was one of Italy’s most prominent independent agencies but otherwise essentially just one of dozens of domestically-focused midsize independents dotted throughout the continent.

But over the past 10 years, that firm has transformed itself into SEC Newgate, one of the 25 largest public relations agencies in the world, with a footprint that includes corporate, financial and public affairs firms in Europe, Asia-Pacific, North America and Latin America — one of a handful of European firms threatening to disrupt global public relations order.

His achievement in building such a global powerhouse is what makes him a recipient of our 2023 SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, which will be presented during our annual awards ceremony in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 23.

Tagliabue, a philosopher by training, founded SEC back in 1989, having previously served in the publishing industry and spent some time running the start-up of the Vatican Television Centre.

In 2013, he made his first international acquisition, buying Brussels-based public affairs firm Cambre Associates, followed a year later by the acquisition of a 70% stake in Spanish firm ACH, and the year after that added Berlin-based firm, Kohl + Partner, to its growing portfolio of specialist firms in key European markets.

Growth accelerated after SEC was listed on the AIM market, part of the London Stock Exchange, in July of 2016. A year later, SEC took a significant stake in Porta, the struggling parent company of Newgate Communications, Redleaf Communications and Publicasity, and Tagliabue joined the board. In 2019, the two firms merged — essentially a reverse takeover by SEC — and Newgate, the financial PR firm with strength in the Asia-Pacific region and London, became the largest agency in SEC’s expanding portfolio.

Last year, however, was the most dramatic in the firm’s history. In January, it announced plans to delist and return to private ownership with support from private equity fund Three Hills Capital Partners as one of its minority shareholders, and in April it acquired a significant stake in New York-based Global Strategy Group, one of the leading independent public affairs firms in the US. Before the end of the year, it had added Mexican firm Another, with its network of Latin American offices.

SEC Newgate, GSG and Another between them reported 2021 public relations fee income of around $172 million, enough to make the combined business one of the top 25 PR firms in the world.

Beyond his role as an entrepreneur and public relations agency principal, Tagliabue was a member of the board of directors of the Fondazione Teatro alla Scala of Milan for 11 years, as well of the Fondazione Banco Alimentare onlus and the Board of IUAV (Istituto Universitario Architettura Venezia), one of the most important architectural departments in Italy. Currently, he sits on the Board of Action Contre la Faim (ACF), a global humanitarian group focused on hunger and malnutrition.